IFJ condemns Australian bid to gag media and officials as "pernicious threat to press freedom"

The International Federation of Journalists today called on the Australian Government to withdraw amendments to the country's Criminal Code, which, say journalists, threatens both whistle blowers and journalists and constitutes "a pernicious threat to press freedom".

Under the Criminal Code Amendment [Espionage and Related Offences] Bill 2001, it will be an offence to communicate "an official record of information or official information" to "a person to whom he or she is not authorised to communicate it or make it available."

The bill also makes it an offence to receive official information.

The IFJ, which is the world largest journalists' group, says the amendments will stifle free journalism by criminalising the sources of information that journalists rely upon.

The General Secretary of the IFJ, Aidan White, said: "Democratic governments should not use the war on terrorism as an excuse to crack down on legitimate journalistic work.

"This legislation threatens scrutiny of government in Australia and will stifle public debate and should be withdrawn.

"In its place the government should legislate to liberalise access to information and to remove criminal penalties for whistle blowers."

The IFJ believes that the government's anti-terrorist strategy is badly flawed when it includes attempts to limit the circulation of information generally. "It is only be strengthening democracy that the challenge of terrorism can be defeated, " said White.